All Access Review: A+
The tread on ZZ Top’s tires was showing a lot of wear by the time that little ol’ band from Texas put out 1976’s uninspired burr under the saddle Tejas. Compared with the thick, rubbery, insatiably delicious blues-rock boogie of Tres Hombres and Fandango, from 1973 and 1975, respectively, the bald and flat Tejas rolled along almost completely on its rims until being sent out to that album scrap yard where disappointing records go to be dismantled for parts. As for ZZ Top, it was time to go back to the shop for a tune-up.
Lying low for three years, the durable trio of Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill triumphantly returned in 1979 with the nitro-burning funny car Deguello, as rowdy and raunchy a record as ZZ Top would ever make. Their propulsive rhythms and Gibbons’ growling guitar licks never sounded so lean or mean as they did on Deguello, with the bubbling hot bluesy stew “I Thank You” and the snarling pit bull of a single “Cheap Sunglasses” leading the charge. It was a strutting, vice-ridden tour de force that would set the stage for the even more lusty and powerful Eliminator in 1983, an album that would transform ZZ Top into the toughest rock-and-roll outlaws on the planet.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Already bad and nationwide, having poured its whiskey-soaked, boogie-rock down America’s gullet and gotten the country blind drunk on its shots of its heavy-duty, Chicago-by-way-of-Texas blues moonshine, ZZ Top set out to search Europe for some accommodating “Tush” and new fans thirsty for their brand of barroom rock, at the behest of Warner Bros. And they found it all on the famed TV show “Rockpalast.” In 1980, ZZ Top roared into the Grugahalle in Essen, Germany, and raised more than a little hell, the live mayhem caught on camera for the acclaimed “Double Down Live” DVD released in 2009. Here, is the musical documentation of that unforgettable night and it is street-legal, complete with vintage concert photos of the band and informative liner notes from “Rockpalast” executive producer Peter Ruechel that tell the fascinating story behind this historic performance.
Riding in to the sound of spaghetti-western horns of the intro “El Deguello,” ZZ Top launches into a wicked, side-winding version of “I Thank You,” one of nine Deguello tracks in the concert set, and follows up with the rugged, earthy grooves of a brass-knuckled “Waitin’ For The Bus” that kicks like a mule. Hill’s bass registers 7.0 on the Richter scale throughout Live in Germany, but on “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” it simmers slowly and seductively, until reaching a boil during Gibbons’ fuel-injected solo, just one of seemingly a thousand sharp, stinging leads the guitar legend clawed his way through that night so long ago. Going deeper into the catalog, ZZ Top rumbles and rages through “Precious and Grace” and “Manic Mechanic,” before working out the kind of sweaty, nasty grooves usually found in strip joints in “Lowdown in the Street” and the radiation burn of “Cheap Sunglasses.”
And Gibbons and company are just warming up, their earthy, gritty aesthetic sounding so dynamic and full of vitality. On “Heard it on the X,” ZZ Top presses the accelerator to the floor and simply runs over the clapping, cheering crowd, prior to cooking up a steaming hell broth of boogie-based blues and proto-metal on “Arrested for Driving While Blind.” Many of ZZ Top’s most salacious hits are set on fire in this scorched-earth, 16-track set, including a riotous “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” and a down-and-dirty medley of “La Grange/Sloppy Drunk/Bar-B-Q,” where Gibbons wrings every bit of sinful, aggressive energy his guitar can muster out of those hot-wired six strings. It’s the highlight of an incredibly exhausting thrill ride that concludes with tasty, swaggering takes on Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” and Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock,” before driving the bruising, brawling closer “Tush,” in all its tawdry glory, straight into a house of ill repute. Confident, lively and full of testosterone, ZZ Top’s Live in Germany is a sensational concert album, maybe one of the best ever. It never lets up, not for a minute, and in the end, it’s a full-blown package of dynamite that will blow you to kingdom come. Don’t worry, you’ll die happy.
Artist Official Page: ZZ Top